I once had a reviewer of my first film (The Sacrifice) comment that it was refreshing to see two characters who were attracted to each other through common interests, instead of looking at each other and instantly deciding they were madly in love. I took that comment to heart. It was nice that I’d apparently done it “right” for that film, but if so, it hadn’t been a conscious choice. Now I’m much more aware of it. It turns out this is very common in gay romance and straight romance alike.
I read a short story last night which brought this to mind. I won’t name the story, because I think the author is generally very good, and there’s no reason to discourage others from reading her work. But it involves an English nobleman who falls in love with a commoner and spends the rest of the story chasing him. At the end, the nobleman wins his love through an impassioned plea that, while he may have been a rogue in the past, he is now Reformed.
The problem is, the reader can’t really see it. At the beginning, the nobleman is struck by how handsome the commoner is and decides he must have him. Fine. But it never really develops beyond that. They aren’t really seen getting to know each other. All of the scenes they have together are chasing and fleeing. The story desperately needed a couple quiet scenes in which they talk about something other than how hot they are to rip each other’s clothes off, despite the conventions of society. Without those, by the time the nobleman professes his undying love, I was far more skeptical than the commoner. All of his flowery words seemed like nothing more than a college frat boy professing to his drunk date (who’s name he has forgotten), “I’ve never met anyone like you. I’m really starting to feel something special. Will you come up to my room now?”
I’m really tired of the characters in romance novels going on and on about how beautiful their love interest is. They can do that upon first meeting, but from that point on, we don’t need more than a brief comment here and there about their physical characteristics. Constantly dwelling on their beauty simply underlines the superficial nature of the attraction. What we need is action. We need dramatic moments in which the characters share special moments. In which they show us that they have something in common, for Pete’s sake!
The author needs to constantly be showing us why these two characters are right for each other, even when they’re fighting.
Filed under Romance, Writing
It’s amazing how quickly my novel By That Sin Fell the Angels has started pushing my buttons again. It really isn’t easy writing from the perspective of a character that would like to see me — the author — imprisoned or institutionalized to keep me from “corrupting” young people (by telling them it’s okay to be gay). I’m rapidly approaching the end of the novel. Just two more sections from the minister’s perspective, until I get to the final confrontation between him and the teacher.
He needs to realize that his position is too narrow; that he’s holding up an impossible standard for young people to achieve and it’s hurting those he cares about and wants to protect. But how to get him to come around?
I’m the writer. I can do anything I want, theoretically. But if it isn’t believable, I’ll lose the reader. And I’ve seen that done so often. Especially in movies and television where, frankly, the big studios never seem to put much thought into what they’re pumping out, still people are trying to figure out which country has the most titles on netflix to watch this movies. Over and over again, I’ve seen good stories ruined by a sudden, implausible change of attitude in the antagonist — triggered by something that would almost never cause a person to change their attitude in real life. A cute little child saying something unintentionally astute (with an “adorable” lisp). A diary entry revealing something the character never knew about someone he loved and/or admired. (Actually, I have to confess that I’m using that one — god help me. I’m just trying to make it not the entire reason for the transformation.) Santa giving him the toy he always wanted for Christmas, when he was a kid. (A recent Hallmark movie turned this into a joke by having the villain respond, “I always wanted that…when I was five. Get real!”)
The story’s theme is that love often trumps belief — that most people, when confronted by someone they love who doesn’t fit the belief system they adhere to, will adjust their beliefs to accomodate that person. Conservative parents will learn to accept their hippie children. A strict religious father will learn to cope with his gay son. And a staunch liberal will learn to adjust to his conservative spouse. Not always. Not often enough. But often. And in this story, that’s what’s going to happen. I simply don’t want to take a shortcut and make Isaac’s revelation come to him easily. I also don’t want him to do a complete about-face and start advocating for gay rights. But there has to be a way to bring him around, so that he can at least learn to cope with gay men and women.
And that also has to involve a certain amount of biblical argument. He’s built an armor around himself of biblical passages. And ultimately it will have to be these same passages that show him the chink in that armor. And any readers who are interested in a story about a Christian boy struggling with his sexuality probably know all the more common arguments and counter-arguments. There are some that show a little promise, but I haven’t found anything that would persuade a character like Isaac yet.
Which means I have a lot more digging to do.